The People Behind The Film
Since our illustrious leader has set up office in L.A., we thought it would be a good idea to feature the work of another UK expat, and see if we could learn something from his experience of moving stateside. Darren Darnborough had a successful career as an actor based in London, appearing on stage and as a guest star in various well-known UK shows. His filmmaking is the result of a long, winding route through amateur dramatics, school plays and youth theatre. While still at school he took extra acting classes, landed an agent, and quickly found work as a professional turn. When deciding on a university, he wanted to stay within the degree system, and so went on an acting course at University of London. After two weeks playing name games and learning how to be a tree, he realised that this wasn’t for him (having already gone through that process), so he changed course to study a three year media degree. It was only when he moved to L.A., however, that he really felt that he found his medium. Here it was that he discovered a “great community of film makers with a real can do attitude”. They would get together in downtime and make things happen – films, plays and parties on the beach. In comparison, England felt stifling and cliquey. America really is the land of opportunity, but also a meritocracy. If you’re good, and prepared to put in the time and energy, you will start to be recognised as a talent and actually be able to make a living! Yes folks. You read that right. A living. Payment. Cash in the bank. As an actor. A ridiculous concept for most UK talent. We do it for the love of the art, darling. Anyway, it was a far cry from the who-you-are-related-to brand of employment strategy he’d encountered on this side of the pond. Darren also has a business head and describes himself as an entrepreneur. He’s an event organiser and was listed in the 2010 Who’s Who of Britain’s Business Elite – Young Business Leaders. He is currently on the Gala Committee of Sir Richard (“one of the best parties I’ve ever been to”) Branson’s Rock The Kasbah, which raises money for various projects in Morocco, and Face Forward, a charity providing reconstructive surgery after violent crimes. So Darren is someone who has taken the plunge and made good.
I was like: ‘Right, I’m coming!’
His move to L.A. was triggered after a London seminar with visiting casting director Zora deHorter, who simply displayed such a positive energy about the film industry (in complete contrast to any other seminars he’d attended), that he felt inspired. Having already discovered the contact details of a visa lawyer, he persuaded a friend of his to make the move beyond the horizon, since she had just earned a lot of cash. Three months later, he visited her in the Hollywood Hills. She already had an agent and a role in ER. Needing no more persuasion he put in his visa application and hasn’t looked back since. Making such a big move is a daunting thought, especially in the days before social media. Nowadays, you arrive with one hundred Facebook friends who can give advice. Back then he just had one real friend in L.A. However, he had had the time to prepare the ground while waiting for his visa and he hit the ground running. In the first two weeks he made all the necessary phone calls and met all the agents and casting directors he could. He’d arrived with enough savings, knowing that he would land “as a newborn”. He made sure he developed a good network of friends, which gave him the support he needed to help him progress with the work. “It’s a really fun place, full of opportunity.” Importantly, he started helping with productions, and this allowed him to very quickly meet like-minded people and start building up a favours catalogue. Who needs dating sites? It didn’t take long before the idea for ‘Stefano Formaggio’, which had been sitting in his head all this time, found its way onto paper and then a pitch to an investor.
Trust me. He’s in my office right now. This guy is perfect. He’s from Italy.
The idea was born of a combination of real life and a wine fuelled conversation, after a friend had a date with a man on the cheese stand at Borough Market in London. The conversation was an attempt to establish why the date had ended abruptly, and the wine helped make the possible explanations more … interesting. The crew included two Emmy Award winners, a Tony winner and a Sundance winner, and the cast are all experienced screen actors. Darren managed to bring together such a great team, through contacts and friends that he already knew. Already knowing everyone off set helped to keep the atmosphere both professional and happy. The cast was trickier to find, since looks were so important for a project like this. Finance was also an issue, since Darren didn’t want to cut corners on safety, insurance or other essentials. Even though everyone was working for below industry standards, the budget still needed to be high if they wanted to create the film as originally intended – a Hollywood standard movie, just shorter. In the end, he brought it in for around $57,000 (£36,500).
After twently minutes he’s like, ‘Alright. Alright, we’ll do it here’
It was a piece of fortune that found Darren in Carmel, Clint Eastwards ex-mayoral seat. He was up there on a journalist junket, and wandering around, he saw a fairytale town that seemed to have a set for each of his scenes. It took some doing, but eventually he managed to convince his producer, Marius Haugen, that moving most of the production to Carmel was what the film needed. Marius only agreed after Darren dragged him to Carmel to show him what he meant. Twenty minutes later it was settled. The production designer, Alex Fymat (one of the Emmy winners and therefore someone you listen to) made sure that all the elements worked together perfectly. The interior sets were built back in L.A. and he was wholly responsible for creating the believability that most of us don’t know we notice.
Once short films have that level of commitment to the craft, then they’ll start being appreciated more by the general public.
Once the film was completed it was time to submit to the festivals. It featured in a few (including Carmel of course), but it didn’t get accepted by as many as Darren had expected. In the end, as the costs of submissions started to become prohibitive, the team decided that it would be better to release online, so that it could get the exposure it deserved. Probably a good decision since, if a Hollywood executive asks when they can see your film, you don’t tell them that they have to drive five hours to Carmel for a screening. Darren thinks that short films could become an entertainment form in their own right. It simply requires the makers to make sure that the standards start to match those of their bigger siblings.
Being the entrepreneurial type, Darren’s latest project is an actor’s tool called ‘WeRehearse’, which does what it says on the tin. It allows actors to link up to run through scripts, find tips etc. and, while they’re at it, to make a little cash to help their colleagues prepare for auditions. It’s a great idea. You can find a link to it here. On the film side he’s developing a feature called ‘Andy & Chas Bugger Off to America’, about a couple of London gangsters getting up to mischief in the good ol’ US of A. If you are planning, or only just dreaming of a career move to Hollywood, then you should definitely watch these videos to get a feel for what to expect.